D.C. resident Michael Tacelosky had a regular greeting for restaurant owner Andy Shallal when he saw him around town: "Why don't you go smoke-free?"
For a year, Shallal replied that he had no plans to change the rules at Mimi's Bistro, at 21st and P streets NW in Dupont Circle. So Tacelosky persuaded about 70 people to write letters to Shallal, expressing how much they enjoy his establishment -- and how much better it would be if no one smoked. As one letter-writer put it: Mimi's features singing waiters, and singing and smoking don't go together well.
Last week, Shallal gave in, announcing that he has banned smoking at his restaurant. For Tacelosky, co-founder of a group called Smokefree DC, it was one small step in a much larger battle to be won.
"I'm happy about it," he said while playing host to about three dozen members of the group at Mimi's one night last week, "but the direction I want to go is not really one-by-one."
Since launching their effort 11/2 years ago, Tacelosky and co-founder Angela Bradbery have started a Web site, recruited members and recently earned nonprofit status for the organization. They were unsuccessful last year, however, in their primary goal: persuading the D.C. Council and mayor to pass a law banning smoking in bars, restaurants, workplaces and all public indoor space.
Under heavy lobbying by the city's restaurant association, some council members blocked the measure. The council also failed to move an alternative bill, offered by Carol Schwartz (R-At Large), that would have given a tax break to restaurants that voluntarily banned smoking.
The group, though, has redoubled its efforts. Organizers say they hope to get an initiative on the fall 2006 ballot to let voters decide the issue, even though a Superior Court judge blocked such an effort this year.
Meantime, Smokefree DC members are lobbying to remove council members who have not been supportive, including Harold Brazil (D-At Large), Kevin P. Chavous (D-Ward 7) and Sandy Allen (D-Ward 8), all of whom are up for reelection in Tuesday's primary.
"D.C. has one of the worst laws," Bradbery told the members. "It's legal to smoke in offices, in health and day-care centers, in taxis -- pretty much everywhere."
Andrew Kline, legal counsel for the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington, said his organization will continue to fight any attempt to ban smoking citywide because it would hurt some businesses and deny patrons who smoke the opportunity to do so.
"We think in terms of individual restaurants making a decision to go smoke-free, that's great because it provides choice in the marketplace," Kline said.
Several other places have enacted bans, including cities in Montgomery County, New York and California. Reviews have been mixed. Some studies suggest that the financial effect on the industry is minimal, but others have shown that certain types of bars and restaurants have been hurt.
Tacelosky has been active in the cause since moving to the District eight years ago from California. He researched which D.C. restaurants do not allow smoking and posted the results on the Internet. Bradbery learned of his effort and urged him to expand the site, agreeing to do her part by organizing a group that has become more political.
The meeting at Mimi's drew several dozen people, including many newcomers who were interested in the issues. Among them were Sarah Carkhoff, 26, and her boyfriend Jason Fizell, 29, who recently moved to Capitol Hill from Lawrence, Kan., which recently enacted a smoking ban.
Although Carkhoff said she smokes occasionally, she said she supports such a ban, first appreciating the effects when she took a business trip to New York and realized that the limited number of clothes she had in her suitcase could be worn again without smelling of smoke after a night on the town.
"It's not hard to step outside for a smoke," she said.
Fizell, a nonsmoker, said he has always supported a ban. "When it was put in place, people [complained] the first few weeks and then people got used to it," he said.
But it's not the patrons that Smokefree DC is most concerned with protecting, but the workers in the restaurants and bars who might have few other employment options.
Shallal said he decided to go smoke-free after discussing it with his managers and employees, who were supportive. One of the traditional fears of the restaurant industry is that by banning smoking, establishments will lose patrons.
"I hope that whatever business I lose, I end up gaining back by drawing people who prefer a smoke-free place," Shallal said.